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The Comedy of Oedipus, Lion and Unicorn

Ali Salem
Directed by Ahmed El-Alfy

★★★★

Pros: An entertaining and dynamic comedy.

Cons: Due to lots of movement and excessive volume, the stage became overcrowded at times.

Our Verdict: A well-executed, politically charged adaptation of a classic play. Some very good acting and dynamic direction make it enjoyable to watch. Guaranteed fun and laughter. 

As part of the international Shubbuk Festival – a window into contemporary Arab culture –this comedy,
Courtesy of Giant Olive

written in 1970 by legendary Egyptian playwright, was bound to stimulate a sense of anticipation. The prospect of this play being held at the Lion and Unicorn, made it even more palatable still.

Now, we all know that Oedipus is a tragedy, so how can a script full of incestuous murders and fearsome wraths possibly be reinvented as a comedy? One option is to start at the same plot point as Sophocles and then turn the story on its head. In this sparkling modern adaptation by Ahmed El-Alfy, the action starts with the folks of Thebes gathering to hear the news of a terrible threat – a hungry beast at the gates of the city.

Elliott Pritchard’s Oedipus is arrogant and funny in equal proportions. Oedipus wants to stay humble and carry the people of Thebes into the future by bringing progress, technology and wealth. But he has a hard job dishing out miraculous inventions and promoting democracy when everybody seems to be busy either calling him a god, becoming his lover or plotting to assassinate him. What makes this play cleverly farcical is the pairing of the impossible. Tiresias (Buchan Lennon) is Stevie Wonders-esque, complete with blind sunglasses (how could he not be an instant favourite of the show?) He represents the inner voice of human wisdom, guiding us when the light fades. By contrast, Creon (head of security) wears an ancient soldier’s uniform, representing the timelessness of military presence in the world. Brilliantly performed by Tom Phillips, Creon is an anchoring presence here, often balancing the sleaziness of the rest of the town’s elite. Take the head of police Awaly, for example – he could be any bully in history, truthful only to his own interests in the name of the king or the gods. Harry Belcher manages a great performance here as the ‘baddy’ and is supported by the sleazy Professor Ptoh and creepy university president Homoheb.

The cast as a whole gave strong performances in what was an enjoyable show, with hilarious moments sandwiched between a lot of movement, shouting and a fair bit of drama. The storyline develops neatly despite the apparent absurdity of everything happening, thanks to good directiont. Jenny Gamble’s set designs and Libby Everall’s beautiful costumes gives this show an overall feeling of quality. Congratulations to El-Alfy’s theatre company for bringing Ali Salem’s timeless call for freedom and progress back to London.

Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Comedy of Oedipus runs at the Lion and Unicorn Theatre until 13th July 2013.
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Founded in 2011, Everything Theatre started life as a pokey blog run by two theatre enthusiasts and – thanks to the Entry Pass Scheme for 16-25 year olds – regular National Theatre goers. Today, we are run by part-time volunteers from a wide array of backgrounds. Among our various contributors are people who work in theatre, but also people who work in law, medicine, events, marketing and even psychiatry! We are all united by our love for the London theatre scene.
  • Anonymous

    well done Ahmed